Would you like to get feedback on your teaching?

Do you teach English to adults online and feel that you would benefit from talking to someone about what happens in your classes? If you are looking for a practical way to develop as a teacher, I’d like to offer you an opportunity to have your lessons observed and receive feedback on your teaching.

Would you like to get feedback on your teaching?

What is this all about?
I recently became a freelancer with the idea of getting involved in new projects. In addition to my work for International House and my own private classes, I’d like to dedicate a couple of hours per week to something else. I love talking to ELT professionals, and that’s why I decided to offer my services to English teachers from around the world.

Why is feedback on teaching important?
I believe that it is crucial to keep developing as a teacher if you wish to make progress in your ELT career. Doing so by yourself isn’t easy, though. It’s quite tricky to self-evaluate your performance while you are teaching a lesson, so asking someone to observe you can be very useful. As your observer, I will give you personalised advice and help you address your weaknesses.

Why should you choose me?
Since getting my CELTA at the beginning of my TEFL career, I have shown a lot of interest in professional development. I finished my Delta last year, and I also hold the Cambridge Train the Trainer certificate. I have received feedback on my teaching from experienced teacher trainers and I think I have picked up a few useful ideas along the way. You are welcome to read my posts on this blog to find out what my views on teaching are.

Who is this for?
There are two main groups of teachers this offer is aimed at:

● newly-qualified teachers with little experience
● those with a couple of years’ experience who would like to take their teaching to a higher level

CELTA and CertTESOL holders are more than welcome to participate.

Who is not a suitable candidate?
Teachers with a Delta, DipTESOL, and other advanced qualifications. It would be more beneficial for you to be observed by a more experienced teacher trainer.

Does your location matter?
Not really. I’ll be happy to work with teachers from any part of the world. Just bear in mind that I live in the Bogotá time zone (UTC−05:00), so we’ll need to plan the online meeting for a time that suits both of us.

How does it work?
The whole process comprises four stages:

  1. Short Zoom meeting to get to know each other and talk about your expectations.
  2. Pre-lesson Zoom meeting to discuss your lesson plan.
  3. Lesson observation, which can be done live (I join your online meeting) or you can record the meeting and send me the video.
  4. Post-lesson Zoom meeting to talk about the lesson. You are also going to receive written feedback.

What about in-person lessons?
I’d prefer to observe online lessons at the moment. However, if you have the means to make a high-quality recording of your in-class lessons, then we can talk about that as well.

What else has to be done?
It is necessary that all your students give you permission to record the meeting or allow me to join the live session. You can always rely on my professionalism and confidentiality; you won’t see me post any screenshots from Zoom meetings on social media.

What if you teach children?
I’d like to keep it simple and observe only classes involving adults. Your students may be fine with being observed and recorded, but their parents may see things differently, so you would need to get their permission as well.

How much does it cost?
I don’t plan to get rich out of this. In fact, I’ll probably have time for just one or two observations per week. The fee is different for each teacher and depends on your location and the length of the observed lesson, and I hope that you will find my proposal reasonable. The funds received from these observations will help me cover the running costs of this website (domain + WordPress site plan).

How can you arrange an observation with me?
You can get in touch through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or this contact form. Please tell me about your motivation for being observed and attach your CV or another document showing your qualifications and experience. I will then get back to you with further information.

Sandra Gaviria: Lesson observation doesn’t need to be a stressful experience

Today’s interviewee is an experienced teacher and coordinator based in Medellín. We discussed the future of online teaching, approaches to assessment, native speakerism in Colombia, the importance of teaching writing skills, and other topics related to ELT.

Sandra Gaviria has been working for Universidad EAFIT in Medellín since 1992. She started teaching English after obtaining her BA in Modern Languages at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana and MA in TESOL at West Virginia University. Sandra was promoted to her current role of academic coordinator in 2000. She is involved in curriculum development, test design, teacher training, and other activities in the academic area. Sandra also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a Master’s in Educational Innovation.

Sandra Gaviria: Lesson observation doesn’t need to be a stressful experience

Let’s start with the beginning of your teaching career. What was your main motivation to become an English teacher?

It was kind of an accident. I was fascinated by English speakers, but there weren’t many opportunities to talk to foreigners here in Medellín at that time. I love languages, so I decided to study English and French because I knew that I would enjoy it. I initially focused only on learning the languages and the idea of teaching didn’t really hit me until I did my practicum. That experience helped me find out that I was born to be a teacher, and I have been involved in ELT since then.

You did your master’s degree in the USA. How did that come about?

When I was in the third year of university, a Colombian professor brought a group of foreigners to a summer course at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana. They needed a host family for one of the participants, so I volunteered and spent a month with a Japanese student at my parents’ place. The professor then told me to contact him after graduation regarding an opportunity to become a teaching assistant in the US. I worked for a year and a half in Medellín to save money because I had to pay for all of my expenses. Fortunately, everything went smoothly and I was able to do the degree at West Virginia University.

After returning to Colombia, you started teaching at Idiomas EAFIT, which had opened only a year before. What was your experience like and how has teaching English changed since 1990s?

It was a new programme, so it wasn’t as structured as it is now. I remember that when I became a teacher, we didn’t have any assessment rubrics and I had to design my own tests. The curriculum was provided by the textbook, but the teachers were practically on their own. I spent eight years working as a teacher before my current position opened up. Our programme needed something more official, so I decided to standardise things after becoming a coordinator. It was very challenging at the beginning, but it was absolutely necessary.

By the way, the city of Medellín is often praised for its transformation in the last few decades. What is the most significant change that you have experienced?

As a child, I would go many years without seeing a foreigner. That changed completely, and before the pandemic we would get many students from abroad learning Spanish or participating in exchange programmes at our university. Seeing people from abroad on campus and in Poblado was very common. They became part of the landscape, and I hope we will soon see foreign students return to Medellín.

I see that you have written a lot of blog posts and other articles on a variety of topics, and you have a degree in journalism. Do you think there are any transferable skills between journalism and teaching?

I think that these areas are connected because every English language teacher should know how to write. I mean, it’s not necessary to be able to write literary pieces, but a teacher’s writing skills have to be at a good level. Writing is one of the most neglected skills when it comes to teaching English. Having students write is not just about giving them the topic, but it requires structure as well. It’s also about the flow of ideas, organising paragraphs, etc. Every language has its own rules, so writing in Spanish isn’t exactly the same as in English, and being aware of that can help teachers guide their students.

You also worked as a master’s programme instructor at Universidad de Caldas. How would you describe your time in Manizales?

I enjoyed it very much. I learned a lot because I had to prepare completely new things, and that helped me with my day-to-day tasks. I’m still in touch with some of the people from the master’s programme; one of them is actually working with us at EAFIT. It was great from a professional point of view, but it was very exhausting. I had to travel a lot, so I didn’t have any break for a long time. Also, those small planes that fly to Manizales don’t provide the most comfortable experience.

What can you tell me about your MA in Educational Innovation from Maharishi University?

I was expecting that to be more technology-oriented, but it was a little different. What I really loved about that programme is that every single student needs to learn Transcendental Meditation (TM). We also ate healthy food and did in-class meditation together. It’s a small university, so we all felt very close to each other. They use a block system, which means that you concentrate only on one subject at a time. The institution created an ideal environment for students and I enjoyed every second of my year there.

Let’s talk about March 2020. Schools in Colombia were closed practically overnight, which must have been very tough for you as a coordinator. How did you deal with the sudden switch to online teaching at Idiomas EAFIT?

The most important part was that we worked as a team and made sure that all the teachers received sufficient training to start teaching online. We cancelled classes for an entire week to get ready for delivering lessons through Teams. It was very tough for me because I worked day and night and kept communicating with our teachers and students, so by the time we got to Semana Santa in the middle of April, I was exhausted and needed that one-week break. We got the hang of things a few weeks later, which allowed us to start experimenting with new applications. It’s been a very interesting process because it forced us to make quick progress in online education.

I know that you’re back to in-person teaching at EAFIT. How has it been?

Our classrooms were designed for small groups, so we can have only a limited number of students in them due to the current restrictions. I have to say that it’s great to see our students back on campus. The university also acquired amazing 360-degree cameras and high-quality microphones, which gives us the option to run hybrid courses as well. Of course, working with two groups of students at the same time isn’t easy, so this is another challenge we have to deal with. In addition to that, we continue offering fully-online courses.

Do you think that some students may prefer to attend online courses even when the pandemic is over?

I think so. My prediction is that the working professionals are going to be interested in continuing to study online. Commuting to our early morning and evening classes can be time-consuming, so I imagine that those courses will stay online. On the other hand, the undergraduate students at our university will most likely prefer to learn in the physical classrooms.

One of your many responsibilities is observing teachers and giving them feedback. Would you like to share some tips for teacher trainers who are involved in lesson observation?

I’ve learned throughout the years that the more you help to lower the teachers’ anxiety, the better. I usually announce the observation beforehand and I’m also open to negotiating the date of the observed lesson. The teachers generally give me a lesson plan, but I don’t require them to follow it to the letter. I believe that you need to be able to adapt your lesson based on the students’ needs. The teachers need to show that they can be flexible.

I often think of my role as an observer. My presence in the classroom influences what happens in the lesson because some students may think that I’m there to observe them. Sitting in the corner and taking notes may not always be the best option, so I prefer to write my thoughts down at the end of the lesson. I also think it’s a good idea to break the routine from time to time and do things differently to make the teacher feel more comfortable. Sometimes I enjoy the lessons so much that it’s hard for me not to participate!

In addition, my years of experience have taught me to be more understanding. I know that I’m looking at just one snapshot, so I can’t generalise and think that’s what happens every day in that particular teacher’s classroom. I believe that it’s very important to listen to the teacher during our post-observation meeting to find out what their perspective is. When we identify something that needs to be improved, the teacher needs to come up with a plan with concrete actions that should be implemented into their teaching practice. I think the teachers need to be involved in the process rather than just being told what to do.

You are also involved in testing and curriculum development. What are the biggest challenges in these areas?

Some Colombian institutions claim to adhere to the communicative approach, but their tests are very traditional. That type of assessment is decontextualised and doesn’t really integrate skills, so at EAFIT we decided to move away from it. We don’t give our students paper-based summative tests, but our assessment is more ongoing and involves a variety of activities. There is a project at the end of each unit, and we aim to make our students think beyond English and focus on ideas such as sustainable development, protecting the environment, and helping the community.

Have you had any experience with native speakerism? I think that Colombia is one of the countries where this issue is very common.

This is an issue especially when it comes to the corporate courses because those students often ask for native English speakers. It makes me upset because we are a team of qualified, hard-working professionals who studied hard to become language teachers. I find it really strange that some companies would rather hire someone with no training in language teaching at all. Sadly, sometimes it’s just a matter of having a gringo name. Some students don’t want to be taught by someone born and raised in the USA just because their name doesn’t sound foreign.

We can certainly see some situations that make no sense at all. Is there any way we can change people’s attitude?

Like any other idea that’s embedded in the culture, it won’t change overnight. It would help if people who have hired foreigners with no training shared their experience and compared it to being taught by a qualified teacher. I hope the idea that training is more important than the teacher’s passport spreads through word of mouth. We try to lead by example, so our language centre has a well-defined hiring process and we are very cautious about hiring backpacker teachers who just need a visa. Our teachers are qualified professionals who are proficient in the language they teach, and they also receive relevant in-service training. I believe that emphasising the importance of teaching qualifications and training is the best way to approach this issue.